Wyclef Jean shines light on Haiti's crisis


Wyclef Jean, the Haitian-born, Brooklyn-raised Grammy award-winning musician, recently announced the launching of Together for Haiti, an organization created in response to the desperate situation in his native country.

"Haiti has been neglected by the U.S. for far too long - and now it needs us more than ever," Jean said at a press conference on Tuesday. "Together for Haiti's got powerful backers committed to turning this situation around, and we feel really good about helping Haitians help themselves."

During the press conference, held at the Gansevoort Hotel in Manhattan, it became clear that the new group's purpose goes well beyond just trying to alleviate the current food crisis.

Together for Haiti is good news for the long-suffering Haitian people. It is also good news for the 600,000-strong Haitian-American community in New York, for whom the new group opens another avenue to effectively help their homeland.

Besides Jean, Together for Haiti's other founding partners are Yéle Haiti, a foundation created by the musician to support projects that advance education, health, environment and community development in his native country; the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), and the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF).

With the majority of its 8 million people earning less than $1 per day, unemployment close to 80% and more than half the population under 21 years old, Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.

Rising food prices and fuel costs made an already desperate situation even worse, and last month the people of Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital, staged three days of rioting. At least seven protesters died.

"Haiti is in an extremely desperate situation," said Jeffrey Sachs, a special adviser to the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, at the press conference. "With a global food crisis on top of a chronic poverty crisis, Haitians are suffering at an extraordinarily acute degree. Yet Haiti can grow more food and become an exporter, not just a desperate importer. Wyclef is our inspiration, he's Haiti's inspiration."

Haiti needs more than food donations. Without a long-term solution that addresses critical issues such as increasing the national production of food and creating jobs, hunger in Haiti cannot be eradicated. Together for Haiti understands that reality and is committed not only to providing food, but also to creating jobs and supporting local agriculture, as part of a coordinated emergency response to the current food crisis.

The partnership defines its mission as providing the resources for "three crucial programs" in Haiti: targeted food distribution, immediate employment creation and microenterprise grants. (Go to www.togetherforhaiti.org for a detailed explanation of these programs.)

Together for Haiti's plans are ambitious, and even if the partnership has powerful backers, implementing them is not going to be cheap.

"Even a small donation will go a long way," Together for Haiti says on its Web site. "It takes just 25 cents to give hungry kids a school meal. This food will not only feed bodies, but also minds, and will help transform lives."

Besides, as Jean said, "... what people don't realize, is that by helping Haiti, we'll be helping our own country as well."

To make your donation online, go to www.toget-herforhaiti.org.

aruiz@nydailynews.com

Wyclef Jean shines light on Haiti's crisis

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